Mughal Aurangzeb silver rupee of Surat and the pirates of the Red Sea

Started by WillieBoyd2, March 18, 2021, 12:44:49 AM

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This little coin is a silver rupee of Mughal India minted around AD 1680 at Surat, a city in northwest India.

Surat was the largest and busiest port of the Mughal Empire and also the first port established by the British East India Company in India.

Mughal silver rupee of Aurangzeb, Surat mint, AH 1091 (AD 1680)
Regnal year 24
Silver, 24 mm, 11.49 gm, Krause KM 300.86

The coin inscriptions are in Persian using Arabic letters.

شاہ اورنگزیب عالمگیر
سکه زد چو بدر منیر
در جهان

Shah Aurangzeb Alamgir (Ruler, throne ornament, universe grasper)
Sikkah zad chu badr monir (Coin struck like the full moon shining)
Dar Jahan (Throughout the World)

ميمنت مانوس
سنه ۲۴ جلوس
ضرب سورت

Maimanet Manus (Associated with prosperity)
Sanat 24 Julus (Year 24 of reign)
Zarb Surat (Struck at Surat)

Aurangzeb Alamgir, whose names meant in Persian "Ornament of the Throne and Conqueror of the World", lived from AD 1618 to 1707 or almost 90 years, and was the Mughal Emperor of India from AD 1658 to 1707.

He was the son of Shah Jahan (of the Taj Mahal fame) and managed to lock up his father and take over the throne. He was sometimes known to the British as the "Grand Mogul".

Aurangzeb official accession date was the ninth month of the Islamic or Anno Hegirae (AH) calendar, Ramadan 1 1068 or AH 1068-9-1.

The coin's regnal year of 24 means that it was struck after AH 1091-9-1 or in the last three months of the year. Aurangzeb had a total of 47 different mints working during his reign.

The British East India Company was founded in AD 1600 to engage in trade with the East Indies. It opened a port at Surat in AD 1619 and began acquiring land in India for facilities.

The Mughal rulers of India sometimes had problems with the East India Company, they even had a war which resulted in EOC officials apologizing to the Emperor Aurangzeb.

When Aurangzeb came to the throne, Mughal coins had Islamic religious inscriptions on them such as "There is no god but Allah" and "Muhammad is his messenger".

Aurangzeb was a devout Muslim and, worried that an infidel would step on the "Word of God" laying on the ground, had the inscriptions removed and replaced by "Persian couplets", simple slogans like "coin struck like shining full moon".

Aurangzeb was an absolute monarch and one wonders what would have happened if an American President tried to remove "In God We Trust" from coins.

This kind of rupee figured in a famous pirate story.

The Pirates of the Red Sea, not as famous as the ones in the Caribbean, but in some ways more successful. The "Red Sea" was an old name for the ocean now known as the "Arabian Sea" or "Indian Ocean".

A British pirate named Henry Every had a ship called the "Fancy" which patrolled the ocean between Africa and India looking for merchant ships.

In 1695 he attacked a Mughal ship, the "Ganj Sawai" which meant something like "Ship full of treasure". The ship was carrying wealthy Muslims back from the Mecca religious pilgrimage and Every got away with several hundred thousand silver rupees and gold mohurs along with jewels and other loot.

The pirate crew behaved badly on the Mughal ship and when the Emperor Aurangzeb heard that the pirates were British he had his soldiers arrest the British merchants in India.

Eventually a deal was worked out with the British paying Aurangzeb a large indemnity and launching a world-wide manhunt for Every and his crew.

Some American colonial governors would protect pirates for a fee. Many of Every's crew and possibly Every himself went to America but had problems because the unusual money they had was "hot" and easy to recognize.

Some crew members were rounded up, taken to Britain, tried, and hung, but Every disappeared. Every probably didn't leave a "treasure"; pirates usually spent their money.

This little related item arrived recently, also minted in AH 1091 but at Aurangabad.

Mughal gold mohur of Aurangzeb, Aurangabad mint, AH 1091 (AD 1680)
Regnal year 2x
Gold, 21 mm, 10.97 gm, Krause KM 315.11

The legends on this coin are the same as on the silver rupee except that this coin is "struck like shining sun" instead of "struck like shining full moon".

Also only the first digit '2' of the regnal year is visible, the regnal year can be "23" or "24" depending on when in AH 1091 it was struck.

Aurangabad is a city in western India and home of the famous Ajanta Buddhist cave monuments and the Ellora Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monastery-temple caves.

And a final note about Surat rupees:

A large number of Surat rupees were found near Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in 1963 by underwater treasure hunters. A trading ship belonging to the Emperor Aurangzeb sank around AD 1703 near the Great Basses reef southeast of the island. One of the group was the science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke who lived in Sri Lanka at the time and who wrote a book about the adventure entitled The Treasure of the Great Reef which was published in 1964.

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Fun write-up of a magnificent coin, Brian. Thank you.

Two small adjustments are needed. First, Surat was there long before the British came to India. It was a major city that the Mughals turned into the only city where foreigners could land their goods without additional fees. This turned the city into a major international trading hub, exactly at the time intercontinental trading took off in Europe. Of special note is the metals trade. By Mughal law, all foreign coins had to be brought to the Surat mint, making it a high volume establishment, so busy that even today there are lots found with cancelled foreign coins that the mint had no time to re-melt. Surat received Japanese copper, turning its hinterland into a sword-making area of the highest quality. It received European silver and exported gold. As the price ratio was determined administratively by the mughal's services (as in China by the emperor's services), it opened possibilities for lucrative price arbitration that enriched European merchants (thereby financing and legitimising protestantism) and impoverished the Indian empire, laying the foundations for colonialism. The British East India Company and the Dutch United East India Company both had a factory (trading establishment) in Surat, competing for influence. Only during the Napoleonic wars did the British win (around 1800), while the Republic was occupied by France.

Also, the pirates of the Red Sea were mostly Indian. The key problem of a pirate was to find fat merchantmen. They therefore operated in choking points the merchantmen had to pass, such as the straits between what is now India and Sri Lanka, but also in the approaches to Surat. As the Somalian pirates today, they used small, fast craft, loaded with adventurers and desperados. Again, it was only in the Napoleonic era that European pirates (you could think of them as private businessmen in a high-risk business) appeared in numbers. Many of these were French privateers, going after EIC ships and sheltering in Indian ocean ports in and around the Pacific. This explains in part the action of the British navy to attack and occupy these ports, including e.g. Mauritius (think of the emergency 10 livres 1810 coins of Governor General, Decaen for ILE DE FRANCE ET BONAPARTE), Madagascar and the Comores.

For the sake of completeness, the other major driver of the British action to knock out French naval supply points between France and India was the influx of French fugitives due to successive political changes in France, starting with the French revolution. The less successful of these migrants ended up as (well paid) volunteers in the service of local Indian lords, fighting the EIC and the British army, as well as other Indian local lords. For instance, French units and military advice played a significant role in the Mysore wars.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.


I have posted an extensive website on the hoard of Surat rupees found by Clarke's group in 1963.
See webpages and pages linked from them
I have posted many extracts from Arthur Clarke's publications.

Dr Kavan
Coins @ since 300 BCE and
Banknotes @ since 1795 CE.


Good fun pages with many links. Interesting to read about your connection with Clarke. Is he still alive? In 1963, I was still going to school.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.